The photographer William Green has produced a lovely sequence of shots of Tokyo taxi drivers asleep in their cars. "It seems to be a culture where, unlike the West, you're allowed to be asleep in public," says Green. "In the UK that's only OK if you're pissed or really knackered."
A piece from the Guardian in which Tim Dowling reflects ruefully on times when he has been caught napping.
When Margaret Thatcher was UK prime minster she was reported to be able to get by on some four hours sleep per night. Not all of her successors have displayed such iron discipline. A minor scandal erupted in the UK last year when an image of David Cameron asleep on a four-poster bed next to his ministerial case (the so-called "red box" -- the very symbol of governmental power, responsibility and confidentiality in British politics) was posted on Instagram by his sister-in-law. But Cameron is by no means the only public figure to have been caught napping in recent years. From the Huffington Post, here is a gallery of images of politicians and celebrities who have nodded off in public.
"Is it unethical to not rouse someone who is sleeping on the subway, and may therefore miss his or her stop? It seems like the proper thing to do, but the person may not want to be woken up". This question was recently posed in the 'Ethicist' section of the New York Times Magazine. The magazine's in-house ethicist, Chuck Klosterman, opens his reply by remarking that "It is difficult to imagine a reasonable situation wherein someone sleeping unintentionally on the subway would not want to be woken up". Comments in a lively follow-up thread cover the danger of antagonizing the sleeper with unwanted attention; perceived differences between subway sleepers in New York and Tokyo (cf our recent post on Sleep on Japanese trains); the ability of some subway sleepers to snap out of sleep as they approach their destination; the potential intrusiveness of public sleepers who snore or slump against fellow passengers; and different etiquettes surrounding sleep on subway as opposed to long-distance trains. One contributor also tells the (possibly apocryphal) story of the heart attack victim whose body was only discovered by transit workers at the end of the shift because his fellow passengers had thought he was simply asleep. All in all, this thread is a valuable reminder of how mass public transport confronts us with something we simply don't encounter in other contexts: the sleep of strangers. It also shows how the ethics of sleep is an area that merits serious further discussion in critical sleep studies. Consider, in this regard, Klosterman's references to the intentions and desires of the sleeper ("someone sleeping unintentionally on the subway would not want to be woken up"). Do sleepers have intentions and desires? If so, can a sleeper be an ethicist? Or should we think of intention, desire -- and ethics -- as belonging exclusively to the conscious, purposive, waking self?
A new article by Brigitte Steger examines the unwritten rules governing behaviour -- especially sleeping behaviour -- on urban Japanese commuter trains. The discussion covers the gendering of inemuri ('sleep in a social situation that is not primarily meant for sleeping') and the functions of feigned sleep, or what in Japan is known as tanuki neiri ('raccoon-dog sleep'), on trains.
'Day Dreamers' is a collection of images of public napping in contemporary China taken by the Shanghai-based photographer Eric Leleu. These 'candid siestas' are described as revealing 'private life overflowing onto the sidewalk; privacy integrating with the wider community'.
The actress Tilda Swinton has recently been in the news for sleeping in public. Periodically this year, Swinton has reprised her 1995 performance piece The Maybe, a collaboration with Cornelia Parker, by sleeping inside a glass box in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Since 2006, the French artist Virgile Novarina (whose profile appears elsewhere on this site) has staged a series of performances entitled En Somme, during which he sleeps in public venues such as art galleries or shop windows; Virgile Sleeps, Jean Seban’s fascinating cluster of short films, both chronicles and interprets a week (January 21st through 26th, 2013) in the life of the sleeping artist.
One might expect all artists to sleep in the same way. On the basis of photographic and video evidence (I haven’t witnessed either of these performances in the slumbering flesh), The Maybe and En Somme are remarkably different. Certainly there are continuities: both develop the traditional association of sleep with death and raise basic questions about mimesis and performance (Is she asleep or just “acting”? [What range!] “Is it a real one or a fake?,” asks one woman of Novarina’s sleeping body). In significant ways, however, these are radically different works. In the case of The Maybe, it is impossible to separate Swinton’s sleep from her celebrity. As an April 17th article in the Huffington Post puts it, “Drop everything you’re doing and hitch a ride to Midtown, because Tilda Swinton is laying her snow-white head down for a nap in New York’s Museum of Modern Art today.” This is partly tongue-in-cheek – hurry, you have the chance to watch someone sleep! – but the irony is secondary to celebrity worship. Moreover, the long lines of museumgoers waiting to approach the slumbering star evoke paparazzi tracking Swinton's every waking (and sleeping) movement. At the same time, The Maybe pushes back against celebrity culture. Swinton exposes herself to the desires of a viewing public in a way that leads one to reflect upon the nature of our obsession with star-gazing. See Tilda like you’ve never seen her before, up close and (im)personal!
Swinton sleeps in street clothes, on top of the sheets on an unadorned bed; she appears as a specimen of celebrity sleeper carefully preserved in a glass case. And yet, she is presumably not sleeping as she would in her bedroom; this natural act is as artificial as it gets. In Virgile Sleeps (and En Somme), Novarina turned a gallery window into a bedroom-cum-exhibition space. He lies under a red blanket, wears a sleep mask and ear plugs, and has books scattered around his head. In Seban’s films, Novarina is both removed from the world – he sleeps during President Obama’s second inauguration, which is broadcast on a café t.v. across the street – and embedded within it. Seban repeatedly moves away from the gallery to provide us glimpses of the Parisian street life into which Novarina’s performance is fascinatingly integrated. We witness a range of interactions with that performance: a young woman poses for a photo with the unwitting sleeper; a boy raps on the gallery window, then hurries away; two young men speak animatedly to one another about En Somme, until one finally yanks the other down the street; numerous others go about their daily lives, paying varying degrees of attention to the sleeper in the window. The cultural curiosity of the artist-as-sleeper is juxtaposed (at first startlingly, and then, upon a moment’s reflection, inevitably) with Alexandre, a homeless man sleeping rough. One sleeper draws our attention, while the other makes us look away. A potential interpretation of both En Somme and Virgile Sleeps is offered by a young woman who observes, “I would say, all in all: Isn’t sleep life itself?” (That she laughs after making this observation captures the sense of whimsy that differentiates the work of both Seban and Novarina from that of Swinton and Parker.)
In Seban’s films (see especially “Wednesday”), the artist does more than sleep. Novarina is fascinated by sleep’s generative capacities, and he regularly half-emerges from his slumbers to produce writing that, when he is fully awake, he re-renders in a more legible hand. As translated, his sentences are wonderfully loopy: “I received no news from any of such beautiful parentheses”; “[Person A:] For a downloaded woman, you are benevolent. [Person B:] Silence!” While sleep is inscrutable in both En Somme and The Maybe, the nature of its opacity is different. For Swinton and Parker, sleep’s unknowability, like the movie star’s, is that of the impenetrable surface; with Novarina, sleep teases us with its depths, eliciting our admiration even as we suspect its having fun at our expense: beautiful parentheses, indeed.